In my opinion, Italian Cinema has made one of the most significant contributions to film industry and the creative economy in general. Their creativity and storytelling capability makes the ‘films’ of today look like just as horrible as gum on the bottom of your shoe (with the exception of works by Scorsese, Malick, Lynch and a few others) Italian cinema from its Avant-garde period, to Cinecittà , to Neorealism, injected the film world and ‘Hollywood’ with the most substantial contribution of creativity, storytelling ability, and on screen emotion that has not been matched since, by Hollywood or anyone else (again with the exception of a few independent filmmakers).
Some of my recommendations and favorites are:
Rocco and his Brothers (1960). The connection between 4 brothers has never been illustrated so accurately. Set in Milan, it tells the story of an immigrant family from the South of Italy (aka “the south”) and its disintegration in the society of the industrial “North”. The film stars Alain Delon, Renato Salvatori, Annie Girardot, and the ever evocative Claudia Cardinale, in one of her early roles before she became an international female temptress. One of the film’s most noticeable achievements is the weaving of the stories of Vincenzo, Simone, Rocco, Ciro and Luca as they struggle to adapt to life in a large, impersonal city.
The plot builds around a young prostitute, Nadia (Annie Girardot), who gets involved with two of the brothers, falling in love with the romantic, only to be cast out by him (the one she truly loves) to pursue the other, a brutish like creature who is eventually cast out from the entire family. The pivotal scene in the film comes when Simone (the brute) rapes Nadia in front of Rocco (the romantic), who then gives her up to his brother out of a tragic, misplaced desire to do whatever it takes to keep his family whole.
The neoralistic nature of the film is showcased when the film ends with no substantive resolution, but with clouds of doom hanging over the family. During shooting, the film was seized and Visconti asked to delete the scenes showing Nadia’s rape and murder. Visconti was not vindicated until a court judgement of 1966.
La Strada (1954). Fellini’s wife, Giulietta Masina, painted up and playing a drum alongside a manly gypsy named, no other than, ZAMPANO! This is the tale of simple minded woman and brawling traveling performer that is the first to use several visual trademarks that reappear in many Fellini films: the circus, parades, a figure suspended between land and sky, a female waif and brawly male, and the sea. Fellini continued to use these themes in almost every film he made until the end of his life.
This is, in my opinion, Fellini’s first masterpiece. This film showcases his ability to develop in-depth characters almost as if you had known them their whole lives. His depiction of Italians suffering after the defeat of WWII is one of the most accurate accounts of its time. Fellini also hits that at that time Italy was still struggling to heal itself while trying to adapt to a new, foreign reality.
8 ½ (1963), also directed by Federico Fellini, is the best film ever made about filmmaking. Here, Fellini tells the story of a famous Italian film director who is supposed to be creating a science fiction / autobiographical film, but becomes distracted and disinterested due to artistic and marital difficulties. Shot in black-and-white by cinematographer Gianni di Venanzo, the film features a soundtrack by Nino Rota with costume and set designs by Piero Gherardi. The title 8 ½ refers to the number of films Fellini had directed until that time. These included six feature films, two short segments, and a collaboration with Alberto Lattunda (1/2). The main characters flashbacks and dreams fill this film with provocative memories and fantasies interwoven with his reality.
See “the Italian Job” – the original. Although it’s not an Italian film (rather the opposite, a British Film), the mini cooper chase scene through Rome and its surrounds has never been matched. It is also an amazing comedic masterpiece.